When the UNLV defense came on for Hawaii's first possession, I was preparing for the worst. The Rebels quite simply had terrible defensive outings in their first two games, both times being unable to force a punt until at least the seventh possession for the opposing offense. Both Wisconsin and Washington State had been able to move the ball as if the defense wasn't there and it didn't help that they were about to be facing an offense known for scoring, even against good defenses.
I, and many other UNLV followers, were completely wrong. The Rebels forced two straight three and outs from Hawaii, leading to an 80 yard touchdown run from Tim Cornett to give UNLV an early 10-0 lead on Hawaii. You heard that right, UNLV was up 10-0 on Hawaii with about five minutes left in the first quarter.
Another three and out by Hawaii and a long, methodical drive by the Rebels, capped off by a 6 yard touchdown pass to Phillip Payne, put them up 17-0 with 9:42 left in the second quarter. You would not believe how shocked the 13,000+ Hawaii fans were on the other side of the stadium. Before the game they were very loud, but at this point they were completely silent. You could tell that both the fans and the Hawaii football team itself were stunned.
Well, those Hawaii fans got something to cheer about on the next drive, as the Warriors came down the field in what looked like a pivotal drive to score a touchdown in just over three minutes. This drive started with a holding penalty on Hawaii that made it 1st and 14, a sack to bring up 2nd and 17 and then a nine yard passing play to make it 3rd and 8 and then an 18 yard gain to get the first down. This was the first time that we saw the Hawaii offense move the ball at all on the UNLV defense.
UNLV missed a chip shot field goal just before the half to keep the score somewhat close for Hawaii at 17-7. The Warriors were going to get the ball first in the second half, so I was pretty worried that a halftime pep talk by Greg McMackin would whip Hawaii into shape. That didn't turn out to be the case.
Hawaii fumbled the ball on the kickoff to open up the second half and the next play was a 33 yard touchdown pass from Caleb Herring to Phillip Payne and just like that, the Rebels had all the momentum back and were up 17 points. A sack fumble on Bryant Moniz at the 30 yard line set up a 50 yard field goal by Nolan Kohorst and the Rebels were now up 27-7 with 10:47 left in the second quarter, but Hawaii wasn't going down without a fight.
The Warriors next drive culminated in a 24 yard touchdown pass on 4th and 5 to begin what was supposed to be the comeback for Hawaii. The Warriors forced a three and out by the UNLV offense, which by the way was the first one in the game for that unit, and were looking to make bring the game within one score. The Warriors drove down the field all the way down to the UNLV 30 yard line, only to have the ball pop lose from Bryant Moniz's hands again.
Both teams traded punts before UNLV was able to get some success going, well, sort of. The drive that put UNLV up 33-14 had five Hawaii penalties, three of them converting unsuccessful third downs for the Rebels. Nonetheless, UNLV did score a touchdown, but failed on the two point conversion so the score was 33-14.
Another long drive that took a ton of time off of the clock put the game away with UNLV now up 40-14 and only 5:01 left in the game. With the backups now in the game for both the Hawaii offense and the UNLV defense, Hawaii drove down the field for a touchdown with 1:21 remaining. A missed extra point made the score 40-20 and that's how the game ended.
What amazed me the most about UNLV in this game was that this team won due to their physicality, which was something they had not shown at all in their past two games. The defense held Hawaii to only 36 yards on the ground, only six if you count all the sacks. Speaking of sacks, UNLV had eight in this game, with most coming from just four man pressure.
As for holding that Hawaii passing attack, well, any team struggles with that, Hawaii had 284 yards through the air. The UNLV defense also was able to get off the field on third down, something that they had failed to do against Washington State and Wisconsin, as Hawaii was 1-9 on third downs.
As for the UNLV offense, they rushed for 186 yards, which was more than they passed for. That definitely shows that something was working on the ground, as the Rebels gained an average of 4.4 yards per rush. Tim Cornett anchored the running game, with 11 carries, 106 yards and 2 touchdowns. Cornett got his first career 100 yard rushing game as he average 9.6 yards per carry.
The strange thing was that Cornett wasn't the only one running the ball well, Bradley Randle pretty much bruised everyone on the Hawaii defense, being the short yardage back. Randle had 19 carries for 78 yards and a touchdown. He averaged 4.1 yards per carry.
Phillip Payne also finally showed some chemistry with Caleb Herring, as he had 7 receptions for 98 yards and 2 touchdowns. As for Herring himself, he was 17-29 for 178 yards an 2 touchdown passes. Herring also threw a pick, but it was the fault of the receiver since the ball hit him right in the chest but bounced up in the air, allowing for the Hawaii defender to make the interception.
Hawaii's Bryant Moniz had an average day passing, going 20-36 for 233 yards and 2 touchdowns, but was terrible rushing the ball. Moniz had 6 carries for -28 yards (mostly sacks) and also had two fumbles.